Latin America & Caribbean

Chile country profile

Map of Chile

Chile is one of South America's most stable and prosperous nations. It has been relatively free of the coups and arbitrary governments that have blighted the continent.

The exception was the 17-year rule of General Augusto Pinochet, whose 1973 coup was one of the bloodiest in 20th-century Latin America and whose dictatorship left more than 3,000 people dead and missing.

Chile's unusual, ribbon-like shape - 4,300 km long and on average 175 km wide - has given it a hugely varied climate.

This ranges from the world's driest desert - the Atacama - in the north, through a Mediterranean climate in the centre, to a snow-prone Alpine climate in the south, with glaciers, fjords and lakes.

Chile is a multi-ethnic society, including people of European and Indian ancestry.


Republic of Chile

Capital: Santiago

  • Population 17.4 million

  • Area 756,096 sq km (291,930 sq miles)

  • Major language Spanish

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 76 years (men), 82 years (women)

  • Currency Chilean peso

Getty Images


President: Michelle Bachelet

Image copyright Getty Images

Michelle Bachelet returned to the presidency in March 2014 after a four-year break, promising to tackle inequality.

During her first presidency from 2006 to 2010, Ms Bachelet won praise for shepherding Chile through the global economic crisis.

A paediatrician, she served in several medical and health roles before studying military defence. In 2002 she became Chile's first female defence minister.

Her father, an air force officer, was detained during Chile's period of military rule and died in prison in 1974.

Arrested and detained herself by the military in 1975, she went into exile in Australia and then East Germany.


Image copyright Getty Images

Chile's national and local terrestrial TV channels operate alongside extensive cable TV networks, which carry many US and international stations.

Radio is an important source of news; there are hundreds of stations, most of them commercial.


Some key dates in Chile's history:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Troops fire on the presidential palace during coup in which President Allende died

1535 - Indigenous Araucanian people successfully resist first Spanish invasion of Chile.

1541 - Pedro de Valdivia begins Spanish conquest and founds Santiago.

1810 - Junta in Santiago proclaims autonomy for Chile following the overthrow of the king of Spain by Napoleon, but Spain regains control of Chile in 1814.

1818 - Chile becomes independent.

1879-84 - Chile increases its territory by one third after it defeats Peru and Bolivia in War of the Pacific.

Late 19th century - Pacification of indigenous Araucanians paves way for European immigration; large-scale mining of nitrate and copper begins.

1891 - Civil war over constitutional dispute between president and congress ends in congressional victory, with president reduced to figurehead.

1970 - Salvador Allende becomes world's first democratically elected Marxist president and embarks on an extensive programme of nationalisation and radical social reform.

1973 - Chief of Staff General Augusto Pinochet ousts Allende in coup and proceeds to establish a brutal dictatorship which lasts until 1990.

1989 - Elections mark return to civilian rule.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Former dictator General Augusto Pinochet was put under house arrest in Britain, where the government later overruled a decision to extradite him to Spain

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